State Capitol Week in Review from Senator Terry Rice

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April 13, 2018

LITTLE ROCK – The state Department of Education has released its annual report on school performance, giving each of the 1,040 schools in Arkansas a letter grade from A to F.

The grades are based on numerous factors, such as students’ scores on standardized tests and their academic improvement over time. Graduation rates and school quality are also factored into the letter grades.

Schools that got failing grades will not be penalized, according to the state Education Commissioner.

The report has again sparked debate on how accurately the letter grades measure school performance. They also raised questions about how much importance to place on standardized test scores when evaluating schools, teachers and administrators.

In districts where prominent schools received a D or an F, school patrons and superintendents advised parents to study the reports carefully, and to not hastily plan on transferring their children to another school solely because of the letter grades.

Representatives of the Office of Education Policy at the University of Arkansas, writing in the statewide newspaper, publicly questioned the weight given to standardized test scores in assigning letter grades to a school, as opposed to the weight given students’ improvement over an extended period of time.

They recommended that parents search for the “student growth” score section of their children’s school, in order to get a more complete picture of the school’s performance.

The University of Arkansas education policy team reiterated a well-researched conclusion — children from impoverished homes will not score as well on standardized tests as children from financially secure homes. Disadvantaged children who start at a relatively low academic level can improve significantly in a good school.

A measure of that improvement is found in the school’s “student growth” on the report card issued by the Education Department.

To access the department’s report, do an Internet search for “myschoolinfo.arkansas.gov” The first link to appear should be ADE My School Info – Search. Click on it and you’ll be on the department’s web site that has the report. There are numerous ways to click on the public school you’re interested in.

The report covers last school year, 2016-2017. The most common grade was a C, for all levels.

Of the elementary schools, about 37 percent received a C. Of the middle schools, 32 percent received a C and of the high schools, 40.5 percent got a C.

Of the 535 elementary schools in Arkansas, 22 were graded F. Of the 204 middle schools, two received an F. Of the 301 high schools, nine got an F.

On the positive side, 83 elementaries, 46 middle schools and 34 high schools got an A.

The most-talked about letter grades were those assigned for the performance of the student body of a school as a whole. The report also shows breaks down performance reports for various groups, to show how each compares with national education standards.

Those groups are African-American students, Hispanic and Latino students, white students, students who don’t speak English as a native language, special education students and students from low-income families.

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